In 2012 an Indian student Nirbhaya was violently raped on a moving bus in Delhi and died of horrific internal injuries. The award winning British film producer, Leslee Udwin spoke to one of the rapists on death row while spending two years making a film about the case. Udwin says she expected deranged monsters to be involved in a crime so heinous but to her surprise these were ordinary, apparently normal Indian men.
Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus, described every detail of what happened during and after the incident. Though he’s accused of participating in the crime but he maintains to be throughout on the wheel while the rape was being committed in the bus. In 16 hours of interviews, Singh showed no remorse and kept expressing bewilderment that such fuss was being made about this rape.
The shocking aspect of this interview is not only that Mukesh showed no remorse for the crime, but he went on to blame women who “roam around in the city after 9 pm with no purpose”, branding them ‘indecent’, and for that reason they were to be held more responsible for a rape and other such crimes committed against them. Also in his words “Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.”. He stated that it as people’s right to teach such women a lesson.
Udwin says it would be easier to process this heinous crime if the perpetrators were monsters but these men represent lot of others in the Indian society who think like this. They are the visible symptoms of deep rooted disease of patriarchal mindset whereby a woman and her will (to do anything) is accorded no value unless approved by rigid societal attitudes.
According to the NGO Partners for Urban Knowledge & Research (Pukar) in Mumbai women’s right to loiter in public spaces ain’t free of prejudices and social attitudes and at times leads to harrassment and crimes against them. They are questioned and looked at suspiciously for moving about without an apparent purpose, even though loitering around the streets of the city is considered a leisure activity and Mumbai takes pride in being a world class metropolis.
As Shilpa Ranade, a PUKAR architect puts it, “Only when men and women have the freedom to move about in public spaces without purpose, only then the boundaries/ binaries of gender within a society can be removed.”
Just like Mumbai, in Karachi as well women have access but do not enjoy the same rights to a public space as men. For example its not a common sight to see women driving public transport or even cycle or motorcycle here. Neither can they play cricket or football on the streets, like boys do. Some places are considered in appropriate for girls to even visit and if they’re seen there they are most likely to be judged as shady, with them receiving unwanted male attention at times. This discourages women presence at ‘inappropriate’ public spaces even further. Its not like just women men need a justification to be at a certain public place while men don’t. Its now common at a lot of public places in Pakistan where stags are not allowed entry without an accompanying female.
PUKAR talks about the right of both men and women to roam aimlessly in a public place without disruption and judgement.
(Phadke, Shilpa, Ranade, Shilpa, Khan, Sameera, “Why Loiter, Radical Possibilities For Gendered Dissent, 2009)